Under the Sun, Above the Sun (Ecclesiastes)

June 25, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Pastor

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 1. Ecclesiastes is pretty easy to find. If you open your Bible about in the middle, you are probably going to be in Psalms. Ecclesiastes is two books after Psalms—Proverbs, then Ecclesiastes.

The other night Josh and I were watching the news, and the last story was of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Now, just to remind you, the Museum of Natural History is where you can see fossils of dinosaur bones, the Hope Diamond, and a life sized model of a blue whale. And now, added to those, is an exhibit celebrating… cell phones.

Yep. I’m not joking. The first cell phone is in the same museum as the Hope Diamond. And if you’re like me, you’re going, “Why?”

Well, why not? When a new cell phone comes out, you want it like the Hope Diamond, don’t you? Anybody remember when the first Motorola Razor came out? It was the coolest thing ever! And then came the iPhone. Then, another iPhone. And another. Now we’re on the iPhone 14. And all the other ones we now see as, well, fossils.

It is crazy how quickly we go from just having to have the latest and greatest to feeling unsatisfied. And I’m pretty sure that’s Apple’s business plan. I think that’s why they keep changing the connections,

But it isn’t just cell phones. It’s pretty much every one of our pursuits. Its career. It’s achievement. It’s relationships. It’s the next car, the next house, the next degree, the next rank. But when you get it, the shine of it seems to wear away almost from the moment you obtain it.

And so this morning, I want to introduce you to the book of the Bible that teaches us this better than any other book of the Bible. It’s the book of Ecclesiastes. But I want to warn you, Ecclesiastes is not a happy book. It’s not like a cheesy Christian movie or “Victory in Jesus” type hymn where everything gets resolved and you walk out ready to conquer the world. It’s kind of the opposite. Ecclesiastes is a cautionary tale intended to teach us a vitally important truth. As dark and depressing as the book is, I promise you that if you learn the lesson it is trying to teach you, it’s going to change your life. I know that’s a big promise, but it’s a big truth. And so I’m going to put it front and center before we do anythijng else. I don’t have any blanks for it, but I would like you to write these three things down somewhere. Here they are. Here’s the whole sermon:

Happiness is never found by pursuing happiness. I know that sounds kind of un-American, right? It’s right there in our Declaration of Independence that we all have a right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But I’ll say it againe: Happiness is never found by pursuing happiness.

Number two, happiness is a by-product of pursuing something or someone else..

And number three, there is only one thing you can pursue that can ever bring true happiness.  

Fast Facts on Ecclesiastes:

Attributed to Solomon (1:1).

The first verse of Ecclesiastes is “The words of the Preacher, the Son of David, the King of Jerusalem.” Actually, in Hebrew the word translated “Preacher” or “teacher” is Qoheleth. It comes from a verb which means to call or to gather together. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the word is Ecclesiastou, which is how we get the name of the book as we have it. But in Greek, Ekklesia is church, or gathering. That’s how we get “Preacher“ from Qohelth. Get it? Got it? Good.

Qohelth describes himself as “Son of David, king of Jerusalem.” He repeats this twice in the first chapter. And at the end of the book, in chapter 12:9, there is an epilogue, most likely written by a later editor, that says,

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care.

So, a son of David, a king in Jerusalem, who collected Proverbs, Who did that? Solomon.

And when you read the first three chapters, the autobiographical details definitely match up with what we know about Solomon. The author describes himself as someone someone who took on a lot of building projects. We know from 2 Chronicles 8 that Solomon took on lots of building projects. It also describes someone who had great wealth and riches. That was true of Solomon also. And 2:9 says he had many concubines. That’s definitely Solomon!

However, this is not the young romantic Solomon who wrote the wedding song we call the Song of Solomon. And it’s not the wise, confident, middle aged Solomon who compiled the book of Proverbs. No, this is old, bitter, Solomon. Let’s just read the first few verses together. If you are physically able, please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word.

[Read verses 1-10]

You may be seated. Usually, when we finish the Scripture reading, I say, “This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.” But it’s a little harder to say with this. I mean, it is the word of the Lord, but it sounds more like a Pink Floyd song than Scripture—

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking—racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure Pink Floyd had Ecclesiastes 1 open when they wrote that song.

Now there are two words or phrases that are introduced in these verses that are crucial to understanding the rest of the book. The first is hevel. It’s used 36 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. In the ESV, its translated “vanity” Other translations say “Meaningless” “Pointless.” “Absolute Futility.” The word literally means vapor or smoke, or breath.

The other phrase, used 27 times, is under the sun. It’s a Hebrew idiom that basically refers to everything that happens on earth.

So you put these two thoughts together and you get, “Everything that happens on earth is meaningless.”

Everything is full of weariness. We will never be satisfied. There’s nothing new under the sun (did you know that cliché came straight from the Bible?), and when you die, no one is going to remember you.

Wow. Aren’t you glad you came to church this morning?

Now the question is, How did the wisest man who ever  lived get to this point? Solomon had everything. God had given him wisdom, a long life, a stable kingdom—he had everything. And lots of it. He should have been the happiest, most optimistic person on earth, right?

Well, remember our first big idea from Ecclesiastes: Happiness is never found by pursuing happiness. Keep your thumb in Ecclesiastes, but flip back to 1 Kings 11 with me.

11 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 

Now, these seven hundred wives were about sex or lust. To tell the truth, that’s what a concubine was for. Concubines were female servants whose only purpose was to gratify sexual desire. No, the wives were about politics. The key word here is “princesses.” Solomon thought he could secure peace for Israel by creating marriage alliances with all the enemy nations that surrounded Israel. And while it is true that there was peace for Israel during Solomon’s lifetime, it was at the cost of Solomon’s heart.

Let me ask you—are you making alliances with hundreds of little kingdoms, thinking they will bring you peace and happiness?

Remember, happiness is never found by pursuing happiness. And neither is peace. Peace and happiness are the by-products of pursuing someone or something else.

So as Solomon got older, you see him trying to recapture that happiness he had when his heart was pursuing God. The rest of Ecclesiastes reads like journal entries from his laboratory experiments. By the way, the best book I’ve ever read on Ecclesiastes is by Ed Young, who pastors the Second Baptist Church in Houston Texas. The book is called “Been there, done that, Now What?” And each chapter goes into detail about Solomon’s search for meaning and happiness. These are some of the chapters:

Solomon’s first experiment was with hedonism. Hedonism is the philosophy that pleasure and self-gratification is the ultimate goal. In other words, party harder. If you are still in Ecclesiastes, follow along in chapter 2:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—[by the way, wine and wisdom really don’t belong in the same sentence]and how to lay hold on folly, [I’m not sure what that means—but it probably involved bungee jumping, or high stakes poker, or swimming with sharks, or any number of things thrill seekers do to try to get the next adrenaline rush…] till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.

When hedonism wasn’t working, Solomon moved on to

Workaholism. This is definitely a more socially acceptable sin than hedonism for Christians. When someone sees you at church and says, “How are you?” You never say, (or at least, I’ve never heard you say) oh, you know—been partying. No, you say, “oh you, know—busy. Running around like crazy. Trying to keep all the plates spinning.” And we say it like it’s a virtue. The key phrase is Achieve More. Look at the next few verses:

I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines,[b] the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. 

So Solomon has tried hedonism. He’s tried to find satisfaction in work, and possessions, and achievement. But look at how he sums it up in verses 10-11:

10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

So neither of these experiments really worked out. So from there, Solomon moves on to

  • Philosophy: Think Deeper (Ecc. 2:12-17, 12:12).

Verses 12-17 talk about Solomon considering wisdom. We know already that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, so maybe he started thinking that wisdom and knowledge were the ultimate. But look at his conclusion. He says in verse 14:

14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 

17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Are you starting to see the pattern here? Every experiment ultimately disappoints him. He even seems to take a crack at religion or piety. He says in verse 26 (and I apologize for it being wrong in your notes—it should say Ecclesiastes 2:26)

26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

I’m not sure how he got to the conclusion he did—that even trying to please God was just vanity and chasing after wind. But I can guess. I think there’s a lot of people who think that just being a good person is going to give them joy. So they aren’t really pursuing God, they are pursuing moralism. And they find that going through the motions of piety without a real relationship with God doesn’t give them the peace that they were hoping for, and pretty soon, they are just back to all their old habits.

So Solomon’s final experiment is with Nihilism. Nihilism is defined as the rejection of all religious and moral principles because you conclude that life is meaningless. The key phrase is give up sooner. Let me just read chapter 6, verses 1-5. Turn there with me.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity;[a] it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy[b] no good—do not all go to the one place?

This is the end result of a life that pursues happiness as an end in itself, without realizing that happiness is only ever a by-product of pursuing the one source of true happiness.

So what is that one source? This circles us back to the two big phrases in Ecclesiastes—Hevel—vapor, breath, meaninglessness, futility,

And “under the sun.” Remember, “under the sun” is used 27 times in Ecclesiastes. And “under the sun”means life lived apart from God. Life from an earthbound perspective.

When you take god out of the equation and start living your life as though this life is all there is, then it really is meaningless. If God isn’t factored in, then everything is pointless. And every meaning you try to assign to life is just going to be hevel.

So what’s the answer? The answer is to get God back into the equation. God didn’t create the world to be cyclical, the way Solomon saw it. He created it to be linear—which means that history is leading to something. And so instead of looking “under the sun” for answers, we need to get “above the sun” to see God’s perspective.

Taken by itself, Ecclesiastes only offers hints of that “above the sun” perspective. But it is there. Quickly, let’s look at where it shows up.

Above the Sun Answers

  • Life is good (Ecc. 3:12-13) The life we have on earth really is beautiful. Whether you believe in God or not, God has created a world with goodness and beauty and pleasure. And these are all good things. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 says,

12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

I was at a Christian concert years ago, and the band was just rocking. People were dancing and jumping and there was a mosh pit in front of the stage, and we were having a ball. And between songs, the singer said, “Guys, if you are here and you are a follower of Jesus, then don’t worry about how hard a week you have had. No matter how tough things have been going, realize that this world is the closest thing to hell you will ever experience. But if you are here and you are not a follower of Jesus, then what you are experiencing tonight is the closest thing to heaven we will experience on this earth. And God wants you to experience it for all eternity.

Life is good, and the beauty all around us is designed to draw us into a relationship with the designer.

  • God is sovereign (Ecc. 12:13). God is in control. You see Ecclesiastes 12:13 printed at the end of your listening guide. Underline verse 13: The end of the matter is this: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

If you grew up Presbyterian, or are coming from a more Reformed branch of Christianity, you are probably familiar with the Westminster catechism. The first question the Shorter catechism asks is “What is the chief end of man?”

Here is the answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

  • God’s Word is authoritative (v. 11)—given by one shepherd. His words are goads that correct you, and nails that can hold your life together.
  • Death is not final (Ecc. 3:11, 14; 12:14)

3:11: You have set eternity in our hearts.


12:14: God will bring every deed into judgment.

The key to finding meaning in life is to realize that our timeline is so much longer than just this life. Life is not cyclical, an endless cycle of sunrises and sunsets and rivers flowing into a sea that is never full. It has an end point. It is going somewhere. God has set eternity in our hearts.

And we are all going to spend it somewhere.

Invitation: Get an above the sun perspective.






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